Union Representation Guide

PERC conducts representation elections to determine whether public employees want to be represented by a union to collectively bargain with their employer. The following information explains what is involved in requesting to select, change, or remove a union. You may also refer to the Representation FAQ.

- Parties Rights and Responsibilites

Public Employees may select, change, or remove a union as representative for collective bargaining purposes.

  • Select: a union to negotiate with their employer about their wages, hours, and working conditions.
  • Change: employees may choose to change what union represents them.
  • Remove (Decertify) : If employees decertify their union representation, their wages, hours, and working conditions will be set by their employer and they will deal directly with their employer about any issues. If the decertification petition results in No Representation, those employees cannot be represented by another union for 1 year from the date of the certification.

Unions may assist employees in organizing a bargaining unit for purposes of bargaining with their employer. 

  • Where employees are seeking to be represented by a union, the union has the primary responsibility to file a representation petition with PERC and to have a representative available to participate in the representation process. 
  • Union campaign activity may not disrupt the workplace and may be limited to non-working areas (such as break rooms) and non-working times (such as lunch hours and breaks).  The employment environment of each particular workplace will determine the ability of employees to engage in campaign activity. 

Employers have the responsibility to remain neutral throughout the representation process. 

  • Employers will be required to post in the workplace certain notices provided by PERC.
  • During a pending representation petition, employers may not alter the terms and conditions of employment for the employees who are the subject of the petition. 
  • Employer’s have the right to challenge (question) the appropriateness of a petitioned-for bargaining unit.

- Selecting or Changing Union Representation

Who can file a representation petition?

  • Individual employees may only file to remove or decertify their existing bargaining representative.
  • Labor organizations may file to represent an unorganized or existing bargaining unit of employees.
  • Employers may only file under limited circumstances as described in WAC 391-25-090.

How to be represented by a different union?
A group of employees cannot force themselves upon a union and PERC cannot compel a union to represent a group of employees.  Employees that wish to have a different union represent them must contact the union, and the petition to change representation must be filed by that union on behalf of the employees.

What does PERC consider a labor organization?
A bargaining representative is any organization whose primary purpose is to represent employees in collective bargaining.

- Removing Union Representation (Decertification)

What can I do if I no longer wish to be represented by a union?
An individual employee or small group of employees cannot file a petition to remove themselves from a larger bargaining unit.  A petition to decertify must cover the entire unit as it currently exists.

What is involved in filing a petition to decertify?

  • You must know the number of employees in the bargaining unit and obtain showing of interest cards from at least 30% of the unit who support the decertification effort. 
  • One employee must act as the filing party (petitioner) and point of contact who will participate in any conference or hearing that PERC directs.
  • When filing a decertification petition, a copy of the petition (but not the showing of interest) must be served on both the employer and the current union.

Who gets to vote in a decertification petition?
All employees determined to be in the bargaining unit will be given an opportunity to vote by mail ballot.

- When Can a Petition be Filed?

There are certain restrictions affecting when a representation petition can be filed based on the status of the bargaining unit.

Organize a New Unit
- If you wish to organize a new bargaining unit, a petition to organize and represent unrepresented employees may be filed at any time.

Change or Remove Representative (expired contract) - If the bargaining unit's current contract has expired, a petition to change or remove the union may be filed at any time prior to the signing of the new contract.

Change or Remove Representative (current contract) - If the bargaining unit's current contract is in effect, a petition may only be filed to change or remove unions during a 30 day "window period." The 30 day window period is determined by the expiration date of the current contract.

  • For state employees under RCW 41.80, the 30 day window period begins 120 days and ends 90 days before the contract expires.
  • For employees under all other statutes, the 30 day window period begins 90 days and ends 60 days before the contract expires.
Recent Election Involving Unit - If PERC has conducted an election, no petition involving the same employees may be filed for 12 months from the date of election or certification.
- Showing of Interest

What is a showing of interest?
All petitions must be filed with a showing of interest.  A showing of interest is individual papers/cards from at least 30% of the employees in the bargaining unit.  Each card must be signed, dated, and clearly state the desired outcome.   A sheet of paper with multiple signatures will not be accepted.

Example - Sample language for a showing of interest card:

  • I 'printed name' want to be represented by ‘name of union’ for the purpose of collective bargaining
  • I 'printed name' no longer want to be represented by ‘name of union’ for the purpose of collective bargaining

Can I withdraw a showing of interest card that I signed?
No. Once a showing of interest card has been submitted to PERC, it cannot be withdrawn. However, employees may provide PERC with a written request that their showing of interest card not be used for the purpose of a cross-check.See WAC 391-25-410(2)

Do showing of interest cards expire?
Yes, showing of interest cards can expire.  Cards must be from the ‘current’ organizing campaign, and will be current only if they are dated less than one year before the date the petition is filed with PERC.

- Representation Case Process

What happens after a petition is filed? 
Once a representation petition is filed, PERC will request a list of the petitioned-for employees from the employer.  PERC will verify whether at least 30% of the employees who signed showing of interest cards are on the list provided by the employer. 

  • If the petition is not supported by at least 30% of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit, PERC will issue a deficiency notice and the petitioning union will be given an opportunity to correct the defect. 
  • If the petition is supported by at least 30% of the employees, PERC will conduct an investigation conference to determine if the parties agree on certain matters.  If the parties agree on all matters, an election or cross-check will be directed.  If the parties do not agree to all matters, a representation hearing will be held.

How long does the process take?
If all parties agree to the matters that need to be determined during the processing of the petition, a mail ballot election or cross-check will be held about 5-7 weeks after the petition is filed.   When there is a matter that needs to be determined by a hearing, a case will take longer to complete.


- Determination by Election and Cross-check

PERC determines union representation by either a mail ballot election or a cross-check of records.

Election process:
  • Secret ballots are mailed to eligible employees homes to vote for their choice of representation, and returned to PERC.
  • An election is conducted with a tally of ballots received.

Cross-check process:

  • A cross-check is only conducted when the petitioning union or labor organization submits showing of interest cards from at least 70% of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit. (or at least 50% of the employees for state civil service employees).
  • PERC directs the employer to provide PERC with employment records with signatures of the employees.
  • No ballots are sent to employees. The signatures on the showing of interest cards are verified against the signature on the employment record. Matching signatures count as a "yes" vote.
  • Employees are given the opportunity to withdraw their signature for the purpose of a cross-check. They put submit a letter requesting their signature card not be used for a cross-check.

- Representation Hearing

If a party challenges the appropriateness of the proposed bargaining unit, or if it is likely that the number of eligibility challenges could affect the outcome of an election, PERC may direct a hearing before the election occurs.

A hearing is similar to a trial before a judge.  The PERC Hearing Officer acts as both an Administrative Law Judge and Investigator.  Parties must provide evidence through testimony of witnesses and exhibits regarding the disputed issues.  The Hearing Officer is also permitted to ask questions of witnesses, call witnesses, and request that parties submit any evidence into the record as needed.

- Hiring an Attorney

PERC will not represent you or provide you with an attorney. PERC staff are strictly neutral and can only answer questions about rules and procedures, and cannot provide legal advice.

You may hire an attorney to represent you or review your petition, but you are responsible for paying their fees.

You are not required to have an attorney. If you don't it is recommended that you:
  • Study the applicabe statutes and rules.
  • Review your claims and evidence.
  • Make your own decision about whether to hire an attorney at your own expense.

- Notification of PERC Decision

After the hearing, PERC will issue a written decision based on the evidence presented at the hearing.  A decision is typically issued 90 days after the closing briefs are filed.  PERC staff cannot provide any information about the content of a decision until it is officially issued.  Once issued, the decision is mailed to parties on the case and posted on this website under Recent Decisions.

- Retaliation for Filing
It is illegal for a public employer to retaliate against a public employee who files a representation petition or gives testimony at a PERC hearing. If you believe you have been the victim of retaliation, contact PERC about filing an unfair labor practice complaint at 360-570-7300.
- File a Case
Fill out a Representation Petition form or visit our File a Case page.